DUI Drugs Charges Explained
Georgia DUI Defense Attorneys
DUI Drugs charges are becoming more commonplace in Georgia, as cops learn how to better evaluate drivers suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. Under Georgia law, it is illegal to drive under the influence of any drug to the extent that it makes you less safe to drive. Additionally, it is illegal to drive with any amount of certain illicit substances in your system.
If you have been arrested on suspicion of DUI Drugs, read on to discover crucial information on these charges and how you can fight your case and save your record.
Why Zeliff | Watson Are Your DUI Lawyers For Drug Cases
At Zeliff | Watson our team of lawyers knows the highly scientific nature of DUI cases inside and out. Simply accepting the state's version of events and the reliability of their testing is something we never do. Both Mr. Watson and Mr. Zeliff have been trained on all aspects of DUI cases, including what officers are trained to observe both before and after pulling you over, field sobriety testing, and chemical testing, including testing conducted at the state crime lab.
As President of the Forsyth County Criminal Defense Bar, Mr. Watson is highly involved both in and out of the courtroom in Forsyth County. As past President of the same organization, Mr. Zeliff has the connections and experience in Forsyth County that will benefit your defense. Together, our attorneys have over 20 years of fighting DUI charges, as the two actually met while working at a large Atlanta DUI defense firm.
If you have been charged with DUI drugs, call our office today at (770) 676-1340 or fill out our contact form on this site for the quickest response. Both Mr. Zeliff and Mr. Watson are on call 24/7 and are flexible in scheduling weekend appointments.
DUI Drugs: What is Less Safe?
The most common DUI drugs charges we see are DUI drug less safe charges. In order to be charged under Georgia less safe law, the cop must not only show that you had a certain drug in your system, but that that drug impaired your driving ability. Less safe charges can also apply to DUI alcohol arrests, though alcohol is not required for a drug DUI. In Georgia, there is even a specific charge for DUI alcohol and drugs combined. In fact, if the cop suspects any alcohol consumption coupled with drugs, you will likely face three, if not four DUI charges.
When a cop initially begins speaking to you and evaluating whether they believe you are under the influence, they will look for signs of drug use, if drugs are suspected. The common indicators cops are trained to look for and frequently describe in their reports are: your behavior, especially nervousness on your part; your physical condition to include the appearance of your eyes, face, and your speech patterns; your explanations and any admissions you make about drug use; and any other relevant factors, including evidence of drugs in your possession or admissions made by you.
A very common misconception is that you cannot receive a DUI drugs charge if you are lawfully prescribed the medication or drug believed to be impairing you. This is simply not true as you can be charged with DUI drugs regardless of whether you have a valid prescription. In fact, we regularly defend clients who have been on their medication(s) for years when they are arrested. Of course, the length of time you have been taking a particular drug can certainly impact your tolerance, which will be important in your DUI case. In investigating your DUI case, we will obtain copies of all of your prescriptions and speak to your prescribing physicians, where possible. Your medical history is central to a DUI drugs defense, and we will investigate all avenues when building your case.
So, what is less safe when we talk about DUI drugs charges? Less safe, by definition, means that you are less efficient, less skillful, less coherent, less able, less qualified and less proficient to drive than if you had not taken the suspected drug. Yes, that definition is a mouthful, but it's the exact definition given by judges to juries in Georgia, so it helps to understand it. As we describe to juries, a less safe charge is the cop's opinion, nothing more, nothing less. Even when there is a blood test showing the presence of drugs, to satisfy his burden of proof, the officer must be able to effectively communicate how these drugs made you less safe to drive.
How Will the Cop Try to Prove I am Less Safe from Drugs?
Very few cops have anything more than basic DUI detection training, as more advanced courses require time and money from their department. Even so, cops that have been through the basic 24 hour DUI course still learn that the same tests used to detect alcohol can help them evaluate a DUI drugs driver. Cops will certainly try to use these same tests in order to gather evidence and arrest you for DUI drugs, even if they have only been trained on how these tests relate to alcohol-impaired drivers.
After pulling you over and speaking to you, officers who are trained in field sobriety testing will certainly prod you along to take these tests. The three main tests used in Georgia are the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand test. The following is a brief description of each of these tests:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: During this test, the officer will have you stand facing them and follow the tip of their finger (or pen) while they move it back and forth in front of your eyes. This test can seemingly take forever, as the test is almost always conducted on the side of a busy road, and can take up to 3-4 minutes to complete. While you may think that keeping your eye on the cop's finger scores you a passing grade on this test, your ability to simply follow their stimulus actually has nothing to do with it. The officer is looking for your eyes ability to smoothly track the stimulus when they conduct this test. Officers are trained that someone showing HGN cannot control the movement of their eyes and therefore the test will pick it up no matter how "well" the driver thinks they do on the test. In a DUI drugs case, officers are trained that most nervous system depressants will cause a subject to have some degree of HGN. Drugs that affect HGN include: diazepam, alprazolam, zolpidem, triazolam, as well as inhalants and dissociative anesthetics.
- The Walk and Turn Test: When administering this test, the officer is trained to give you a set of instructions and then have you perform the evaluation, which consists of walking 9 steps out and back on a straight line. This test, along with the one leg stand, is considered a divided attention test, meaning they test your ability to recall and perform more than one task at a time. There are eight criteria a trained cop is looking for on this test, and no, they do not tell you beforehand what they are.
- The One Leg Stand Test: During the one leg stand, the officer gives you instructions before scoring how well you can balance on one leg for 30 seconds. Officers are trained to keep silent count of the 30 seconds, while having you count out loud. Cops are trained that while most people can hold their leg up for 25 seconds, impaired people will have trouble keeping their leg raised a full 30 seconds. There are four scoring criteria the cop is looking for, and again, you are not told what they are.
Regardless of the officer's training level on field sobriety tests, most cops will absolutely come into court and give their opinion that whatever drug was admitted to or found in your system was the cause of the field sobriety test performance they noted. Cops very rarely come into court vouching for you or saying you "passed" a test. Clients are often shocked to learn that a quick read of the police report indicates they failed all three tests, plus some.
How Does the Prosecutor Prove Marijuana DUI?
In Georgia, in order to prosecute you for a DUI Drugs- Marijuana charge, the prosecutor must show you were less safe to drive form the pot you smoked before driving. This can be a challenge scientifically, as the state crime lab currently does not test for psychoactive ingredients in marijuana, but rather only for inactive metabolites. To put it simply, the state's lab results can only show that you used marijuana within a rather large window, not specifically during or around the time you were driving. As with other DUI drugs cases, the arresting cop will likely testify to any observations he noticed and attribute them to your marijuana use. Red eyes and reddening of the conjunctiva, a slow internal clock (evaluated with a Rhomberg style test), and slow speech or confused behavior are all rather common observations seen in DUI marijuana reports. We even read our fair share of reports describing the "green debris" seen on your tongue…
Why is Blood Important in My DUI Drugs Case?
Under Georgia's implied consent laws, once you are placed under arrest for DUI, the officer has the right to test you for alcohol and drugs. The two most commonly requested tests are blood and breath testing. Since a breath test only tests for alcohol, so they are not generally used in a DUI drugs case. In DUI drugs cases, the officer will read you implied consent and ask you to consent to a blood test. This blood test can be taken anywhere, but must be drawn by certified personnel. I have had cases where ambulances actually came to where my client was stopped and drew their blood, though in a majority, the officer transports the client to a hospital where their blood is drawn by a nurse.
Georgia's blood tests are all tested by the state crime lab. If you remember, the cop should have given the nurse a blood collection kit and then taken it back once the blood was drawn and the filled tubes sealed back in the kit. This kit will be sent to a state crime lab where it will be tested by forensic toxicologists on the state payroll. These results will not come directly to you. They will be transmitted to the prosecutor's office in charge of your case and will be made available to your attorney through the discovery process. These blood results can take weeks, if not months to come in, so there is no point in sweating how quickly the results will come back, as it could be awhile.
What Happens to My License for Drug DUI Cases?
After arresting you for DUI, most officers will confiscate your license and issue you a temporary driving permit. This is true even in a blood draw case where the results of your test will not be known for some time. If the officer has taken your license, it's time to send an appeal letter to the Dept. of Driver Services. When we draft these appeal letters, we include all relevant information about your case and demand that a hearing is held before any action is taken against your license. In the event your test shows alcohol is present and above the legal limit, your appeal letter will force the cop and state to give you a hearing before taking action on your license. If the results show only the presence of drugs, the state will not administratively suspend your license, but will suspend it if you are found or plead guilty to DUI drugs. Unfortunately, if you are convicted of DUI drugs, there is no hardship permit for you to go to work, school, or even family events. Fighting to save your license form this suspension makes putting on a good defense even more important in DUI drugs cases.
What Happens at My Court Date?
After you bond out of jail, you are given a first court date, called an arraignment date, in your DUI drugs case. Depending on the jurisdiction, this court date can come anywhere from a few weeks to a few months later. In City of Atlanta, for instance, you can be arrested Saturday and have a first court date on Monday morning. Meanwhile, in other courts like Forsyth, Cobb and Gwinnett Counties, your first court date can take 2-6 months to come up.
While your arraignment date is very important to keep track of, most attorneys waive the actual hearing, when possible, since it is a formality. Arraignment's sole purpose is to accept a plea of guilty or not guilty. We are usually able to pled clients Not Guilty by filing paperwork with the court to this extent. There are exceptions, like City of Atlanta, where the judge will expect you to keep your case in Atlanta, or transfer it to Fulton County. You will want to discuss your jurisdiction's procedure with your attorney 1-on-1 so you are comfortable knowing how this arraignment and first court dates will be handled.
Before, during, and after your arraignment date, one of your lawyer's jobs is to gather all evidence available in your case. In a blood test case, this evidence can be extensive, as the state crime lab has voluminous records pertaining to blood testing in cases. Additionally, a video, any audio, and all initial and supplemental DUI reports will be obtained around this time. Again, depending on your jurisdiction, this evidence may be rather easy to obtain, or could take weeks and even months to get everything in.
Your attorney will engage in plea negotiations sometime before and often after arraignment. Remember, prosecutors have 50, 60, sometimes even 100 or more cases, so it can be a challenge to get a prosecutor to quickly negotiate your case and reach a final resolution.
If your case is not resolved with a plea, you will often have pretrial hearing dates where the admissibility of certain evidence is contested. Often, these hearings are very important in a DUI drugs case that involves blood drawn for testing, as the admissibility of your blood sample is central to your case.
What are Punishments for DUI Drugs?
The punishment for a DUI drugs conviction is largely the same as a DUI alcohol, with some exceptions regarding your license. On a DUI drugs conviction, you should anticipate:
- 12 months of probation that involves reporting every month to a probation officer
- A minimum of 24 hours in jail
- $1400-$1600 in court fines and surcharges
- Probation supervision fees at approximately $40 monthly
- Community service
- Alcohol and drug abuse assessment and evaluation
- Georgia Risk Reduction Program (DUI school)
- Other conditions as the court deems necessary
In Georgia, a DUI drugs conviction will leave you ineligible for a limited permit or hardship license. Thus, your license is suspended for a minimum period of four months, and unfortunately you cannot drive- no exceptions- during this period. Remember, this punishment is separate from an administrative suspension of your driving privileges.